Sexual Abuse Is Still a Problem in Indiana Schools
It is estimated that 1 out of every 10 children will experience sexual misconduct at the hands of a trusted teacher, coach, or other school official by the time they graduate high school. On average, a teacher will be transferred to three different schools before they are reported to police. In reality, these numbers likely do not accurately represent the growing scourge of educator sexual misconduct in our schools; the incident rate is likely much higher. Crimes of a sexual nature remain the most underreported of crimes. Further, empirical research in the context of school-related sexual abuse is extremely limited. There are no national surveys that collect incident data on school employee sexual misconduct and there is no comprehensive, searchable national database to manage and track reported incidents.
As a direct result of a lack of understanding, awareness, and reporting of these acts, parents hold their children’s hands and walk them into what has turned into a safe haven for sexual predators: school. The vast majority of schoolteachers are people who have our children’s best interests at heart and seek to better the children’s lives and the community as a whole. However, the unfortunate and terrifying reality is that any youth-serving organization will always be a target for sexual predators. As institutions continue to bury their heads in the sand in an effort “keep things quiet,” this epidemic continues to grow. At Cohen & Malad, LLP we receive many calls relating to educator sexual misconduct, and we currently represent several children who’ve been victimized by their trusted teachers.
Legal representation for child survivors of sexual abuse by a teacher
In one case, our client was a fourteen-year-old honor roll student who was subjected to months of harassment and inappropriate sexual innuendo at the hands of her social studies teacher before it ultimately culminated in sexual assault. Kristen,* an eighth grader, endured months of sexual jokes, racy comments, and inappropriate looks before she was attacked at a school dance by her teacher. Her teacher snuck up on Kristen from behind, forcefully grabbed her hips, and thrust his penis toward her buttocks. But the abuse did not stop there. Despite being reported to school officials, the teacher was not relieved of his duties. In fact, the teacher was able to orchestrate a time to be alone with Kristen in a classroom. While alone, the teacher sexually assaulted Kristen. Sadly, Kristen was not the first victim of this teacher. For years, parents and students alike had complained about the teacher’s inappropriate behavior. The school did nothing to protect Kristen or other kids or to prevent her assault.
In another case, our client was a shining star in her high school’s Fine Arts program. Reeling from her parent’s difficult divorce, Elaine* found a second home within her theatre class. The director of the theatre program homed in on Elaine’s vulnerability and seized this opportunity to groom Elaine and eventually start a sexual relationship with her. What began as the theatre teacher confiding things about his personal life to Elaine escalated to them making out in the school theatre and eventually to sexual intercourse both inside and outside of the school. Elaine was just seventeen years old; her abuser was forty-seven years old. Again, the high school had been on notice for a number of years about the theatre teacher’s bad behavior. Yet, nothing was done. This school, too, failed to protect its children.
These are only two instances of on-going litigation against Indiana educators accused of sexually abusing kids. Educator sexual misconduct is rife within our society. With no apparent incentive and certainly no consequences, many schools continue to have culpability in this matter as they continue to look the other way. Contact us if you or your child were sexually abused by a trusted teacher, aide, or coach.
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
FBI Investigates Sexual Abuse Claims Within New Orleans Catholic Church
News of a federal investigation into sexual abuse claims within the Catholic Church in New Orleans has gained national attention. And while this type of news isn’t as surprising as it once was, the nature of this investigation and the possible legal claim is.
Reports of alleged sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans involve priests who allegedly abused children during trips to camps and amusement parks in Mississippi, Texas and Florida. Sexual abuse claims that involve travel across state lines fall under the scope of the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking law. And while some of the reports about New Orleans priests involved alleged abuse that happened decades ago, there is no statute of limitations for violations of the Mann Act. This means that adults who were allegedly molested as children are able to bring a claim against these predator priests and the church under the Mann Act.
Mann Act and Justice For Sexual Abuse Survivors
The application of the Mann Act is important as the average age for disclosure of sexual abuse is 52, well after the abuse occurred. Many sexual abuse claims are barred by state laws that contain time limits on how long a victim has to file a lawsuit, aka statute of limitations. For instance, in Indiana a victim of sexual abuse generally has until the age of 25 to file a lawsuit if they were sexually abused as a minor. That means if they wait until they are 52, which is the average age of disclosure, it will be too late for them to take legal action in Indiana. Of course, there are some exceptions. It is important for anyone who has suffered sexual abuse to speak with an attorney experienced with sexual abuse lawsuits who can advise them of their legal rights and options.
It takes courage for survivors to report sexual abuse. There are a variety of factors that influence when, or even if, a survivor will disclose the abuse they suffered. Sexual abuse perpetrated by priests, religious leaders and faith community volunteers can inflict a deep sense of shame and guilt. Victims are often left to struggle with sexual abuse trauma as well as conflicts with their religious beliefs. Our sexual abuse litigation team at Cohen & Malad, LLP has represented people who suffered sexual abuse within faith communities and can help you.
Sexual Abuse Crisis in Faith Communities
The Catholic Church has certainly garnered the most attention for its history of failing victims of sexual abuse. Investigators found church leaders covered up reports of abuse for decades and allowed perpetrator priests to relocate to other diocese where they often continued to prey on children. But this problem isn’t unique to the Catholic Church. If fact, the Southern Baptist Convention was recently the subject of a investigation by Texas journalists who exposed decades of sexual abuse reports within the church that SBC leaders ignored or mishandled. After the media broke the story, SBC leaders hired Guidepost Solutions to conduct an independent investigation into reports of sexual abuse within the church. A 259-page report was published in May 2022 which included a number of findings regarding the mishandling of sexual abuse claims and allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by Executive Committee members which spanned 20 years.
Across social media the #ChurchToo movement has helped sexual abuse survivors find their voice. Our attorneys have represented survivors in civil court for over 20 years and have fought to get compensation for sexual abuse survivors so they can pay for mental health services and other resources to heal from the trauma of sexual abuse. If you have been sexually abused by a priest, pastor, faith leader or anyone within a religious community we believe you and stand ready to help you. You are not alone. Contact us now.
Sexual Assault: How the Burden of Proof in a Criminal Prosecution Can Affect a Civil Lawsuit
By: Amina A. Thomas, Attorney
The New York Times’ Monday morning headline this week was a report on How Rape Cases Get Dropped. The article examines why, even amidst increased social and cultural awareness in recent years surrounding sexual assault, prosecutors often still refuse to bring criminal prosecutions of sexual assault and frequently drop cases after they do bring charges. The report states:
“The Me Too movement led to heightened awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault, an increase in reports to police, and a new hope that people accused would be more frequently held accountable. But in New York City, statistics and the accounts of women who say they were attacked suggest that little has changed about the way the criminal justice system grapples with rape accusations.”
As mentioned in the report, a major reason rape and sexual assault cases are so often rejected by prosecutors is because of the high burden of proof that prosecutors must meet, coupled with the fact that sexual assault cases often present inherent challenges of witness credibility. Usually, there isn’t a third-party witness to these crimes, and as the report notes, in cases where “the attacker is not a stranger and alcohol is involved,” it can be extremely difficult to convince a jury of the defendant’s guilt.
The burden of proof in civil litigation, however, is lower than that in a criminal prosecution. Instead of proving his or her case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a rape or sexual assault survivor plaintiff most only convince a jury by a “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, the plaintiff must only be able to show that, more likely than not, the assault occurred.
While this lower evidentiary standard is, at first blush, helpful to survivor-plaintiffs, the aftermath of a criminal prosecution usually has a strong effect on the outcome of a civil lawsuit. Almost all the evidence set forth in a criminal prosecution against a perpetrator will become relevant in a civil action against that same perpetrator. When a prosecutor secures a guilty plea or conviction against a perpetrator, the survivor’s civil case is inherently much stronger.
On the other hand, if a criminal case is dropped or a jury finds a perpetrator not guilty, a survivor who wishes to pursue a civil lawsuit against his or her perpetrator will be left with an extremely onerous battle of combating the negatively skewed evidence from the criminal proceedings. Furthermore, a negative result in a criminal case is emotionally draining for a survivor, and in turn can often make survivors hesitant to move forward with civil action at all.
Cohen & Malad, LLP’s clients who are survivors of sexual assault are usually also taking part in a criminal prosecution against their perpetrators. In the unfortunate circumstance that a prosecutor believes he or she is unable to prove a rape or sexual assault charge, the decision to pursue a different or lesser charge, such as “battery,” is often still more helpful to a subsequent civil case than a prosecutor bringing no case at all or pursuing a charge on which a jury is unlikely to convict.
Prosecutors should continue to encourage survivors of sexual assault to come forward against their abusers. One way to encourage survivors is by exploring alternative courses of action that enable prosecutors to see these cases through. At the end of the day, a finding of guilt on a lesser charge such as battery, is still an acknowledgement by the perpetrator and by society that the accused act did in fact occur. It will result in at least some level of accountability for the perpetrator and creates more positive evidence for a survivor to build a civil case against their perpetrator. Most importantly, a conviction or guilty plea—even of a less serious offense— can provide recognition to the survivor that his or her courage to come forward was not for nothing.
How to Help Sexually Abused Children Suffering from PTSD and Other Psychological Injuries
By: Gregory L. Laker, Attorney
Tragically, we have seen an alarming increase in the sexual abuse of Indiana children recently. We shook our head in amazement when we read about the depraved sexual escapades of Jared Fogle, the formerly likeable Subway pitchman recently sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. More recently, an investigation into allegations of child pornography and child exploitation led to the abrupt resignation of Park Tudor basketball coach, Kyle Cox. It seems like every week we are reading about new allegations that involve one of our children’s teachers, coaches or mentors.